The European Union is to provide 700 million euro and a Frontex rapid deployment team to assist Greece with migration management as thousands of would-be migrants have massed at its border with Turkey.
The assistance was announced after a visit to the border area on March 3 by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other top EU leaders.
Von der Leyen said that of the sum, 350 million euro would be available immediately and 350 million euro could be requested as an amending budget.
She described the situation at the border area as “tense and difficult”.
The resources to be deployed to assist Greece include an offshore vessel, other patrol vessels and Frontex rapid deployment team with 100 additional border guards, in addition to the 500 guarding Greece’s land and sea borders.
A statement on March 3 by the Frontex management board said that the agency stands ready to further extend its support for Greece to other operational areas and/or type of assistance within Frontex mandate, and asks the agency and Greece and Bulgaria to continuously assess the needs in a sustainable way.
Von der Leyen thanked, among others, the Greek border guards, coast guard and Frontex. “Greek worries are our worries,” she said.
“Those who seek to test Europe’s unity will be disappointed. We will hold the line and we will prevail,” she said. “Turkey is not an enemy, and people are not just means to reach a goal. We would do well to remember both in the coming days.”
Von der Leyen expressed compassion for the migrants “lured by false promises into a desperate situation”.
Apart from Von der Leyen, those participating in the visit to the Greek-Turkish border area included European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, European Council President Charles Michel, European Parliament President David Sassoli, who were received by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Andrej Plenković, Prime Minister of Croatia, current holder of the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU.
On the afternoon of March 3, Von der Leyen and Michel arrived in Bulgaria, where they were received by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov before embarking on an inspection tour of the Bulgarian border area.
Bulgarian authorities say that the country is not experiencing significantly increased migration pressure.
Borissov, who has had phone conversations with numerous European leaders on the migration situation, visited Ankara on the evening of March 2 for talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Speaking at a joint news conference held with Erdogan after their talks, Borissov thanked Turkey for holding to the agreement with the EU regarding the Bulgarian-Turkish border. That “allows Bulgarian citizens to sleep peacefully,” Borissov said.
The Bulgarian Prime Minister said that a trilateral meeting that he had hoped to set up in Sofia on March 6 would not go ahead because Erdogan refused to sit at the same table as Mitsotakis.
Erdogan accused the EU of failing to share the burden regarding the refugees in his country. Turkey had warned the EU that if the bloc failed to share the burden, Turkey would be forced to open its borders, he said.
However, he praised Bulgaria. “We have wonderful co-operation with Bulgaria in the area of security and solidarity, based on mutual respect and understanding. This notion of co-operation and solidarity must serve as an example for all the EU countries,” Erdogan said.
The situation at the Turkish borders with Greece and Bulgaria, and the conflict in Syria, are to be discussed at a special meeting of EU interior ministers on March 4, and a special meeting of EU foreign ministers on March 6.